French teachers struck and demonstrated in large numbers on Tuesday demanding coronavirus safety. But they also raised many other educational demands.
In particular there was bitter anger against Jean-Michel Blanquer, the national education minister, who has been ramming through neoliberal attacks for years.
Unions report that around one in five primary school teachers went on strike along with 40 percent of middle school teachers. Not all the education unions called for a strike.
The present toll of the pandemic is similar to Britain. On Tuesday the deaths of another 472 people were announced. The day before the figure was 551.
But the government has continued to keep schools open, to refuse mass recruitment of staff, and offer only the most basic safety measures.
School students who tried to hold their own actions on Tuesday over safety faced brutal repression.
Those who tried to barricade their schools were met by harsh police treatment at the Colbert, Louis Armand and Bergson schools in Paris. At some schools police used baton charges and tear gas.
In Rennes there were also police attacks. In Pau, hundreds of high school students gathered at the Saint John Perse school where the CRS riot police launched what one student called “a massive gas attack followed by arrests”.
Sirine, a school student at Colbert said, “We are afraid for those around us. We are all crowded in the corridors, in the classrooms. The blockade is the only way to be heard.”
The strikes followed days of agitation and strikes in schools driven by rank and file organisation.
Teacher Agatha spoke to Socialist Worker from Marseille. She said, “We have been taking action because we are ignored. We are not even told when a child tests positive for coronavirus.
“We cannot work out where there is a danger of it spreading.
“The canteen is very crowded, and so are the corridors.
“But it’s not just about the last three months, it’s about the last three years. We have had waves of ‘reforms’ that make education narrower and our job harder. People are completely fed up with the way the government acts.”
In a number of schools workers have imposed from below the demand to cut classes in half and then teach pupils on a rota basis.
In response the government has been forced to concede this measure officially for at least some types of schools.
But this didn’t halt the strike.
In Paris, several thousand teachers marched and assembled in front of the ministry of national education. In addition to denouncing wholly inadequate health measures, many teachers showed their solidarity with students who had been attacked.
There were also demonstrations in Dieppe, Rouen, Havre, Evreux, Nantes, Clermont-Ferrand, Montpelier, Le Mans, Troyes, Bordeaux, Marseille, Clermont-Ferrand and Montauban.
L’Anticapitaliste, the paper of the NPA revolutionary organisation, says that in Toulouse 200 teachers and support staff held a general assembly meeting and then 1,000 joined a protest.
It reports, “The strike was not only the coming together and extension of more or less spontaneous mobilisations for safety measures. Many people stressed the need to recruit more staff.
“The general assembly was less about health protocols than about Blanquer's resignation, institutional contempt and the authoritarian assaults by the government, including against high school students.”
Health workers joined the rally in Toulouse.
Agathe says, “We all want to know what’s next. We need to be honest that it was a good day but not nearly enough to achieve what we want.
“Across Europe schools are facing the same issues. We need to learn from one another the best way to overcome governments that ate putting the interests of business first.”
The SUD Education union said on Tuesday, “Further local actions are already planned, from the end of the week and the beginning of next week, including on Thursday 12 and Tuesday 17 November. SUD Education calls on staff to participate massively in all actions decided on locally.”
Only more struggle can win against the toxic government.